Proposition 37, which would have required foods sold in California to be labeled for any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) they contain, had little trouble getting the signatures required to appear on the November 2012 ballot. Up until the final stretch, the proposition appeared destined for passage by California voters. As word filtered through the various relevant industries, opposition started to form and raise funds to counter the Right to Know movement that backed the proposition. Whether due to dollars and ad campaigns or the education and understanding of the electorate, the proposition failed at the polls. It is most likely the voters of California did not know enough about GMOs and safety, as well as the finer points of the proposed law and its potential impact on food costs.
The debate from both sides was quite passionate and forceful. Check out this slide show for some details and arguments from both sides. In the end, the No on Prop 37 side won ... or did they?
John Roulac, founder and CEO of organic superfood company Nutiva, which contributed to the Right to Know campaign, said the millions of dollars spent by Monsanto and its fellow No on Prop 37 supporters actually helped bring the issue of GMO labeling to the whole country. "This has energized the entire [GMO labeling] movement across the country," he said.
It is true, to some degree. Many people outside of California who previously did not have GMO labeling on their radars do now. Roulac said the Right to Know movement has struck a chord with thousands of mommy bloggers and Facebookers, who are concerned about the foods they are feeding their families. "They are determined as ever," he said, refering to winning mandatory GMO labeling regulations.
In fact, social media may play a big role in how the Right to Know campaign moves forward. Roulac reported the newly created GMO Inside campaign launched a Facebook page, which has garnered more than 7,000 likes in just over one week. "There are five-times more people talking about GMO Inside than about Cheerios," he noted.
A play on the famous Intel Inside tag line, GMO Inside plans to not only educate consumers on GMOs in foods and how to avoid them, but also plans to call out foods that contain GMOs—a recent Thanksgiving post highlights common GMO food brands used during the holiday feast. "If the corporations won't label their GMO foods, the people will," Roulac declared. He said GMO Inside will provide people with tools and resources they can use to take action against GMO foods, including demanding retailers label GMO foods via signage.
Even those who opposed the proposition—many took issue not with consumers' right to know about GMOs, but with the way the proposition was written— can see the fight is not over. At SupplySide West, the American Herbal Products Association's Michael McGuffin told SupplySide Why stage listeners the natural foods industry needs to avoid battling such GMO labeling efforts on a state-by-state level. If there is no nationwide federal or industry self-regulation, companies could be faced with having to comply with dozens of different labeling requirements adopted by as many states. In fact, Roulac reported GMO labeling efforts are underway, but in early stages, in Washington, Oregon and Vermont.
The fight in California is but one battle, but the greater campaign may be played out across the nation as the grassroots movement for the Right to Know grows. Is GMO labeling inevitable? Will food companies work with regulators and/or Right to Know supporters on an acceptable solution?
I'm not sure where the majority of America stands on the issue of GMOs in foods—the country has trailed other parts of the world in terms of concern over GMOs—but I suspect the apathy is waning. However, given the scope of GMO ingredients in the food supply, will the presence of "GMO" on a food label make a difference to consumers, and will they demand non-GMO alternatives, given the potential costs involved?